Thursday, December 9, 2010

Prisoner Poker- Picking Tomatoes in Sunny Arizona

It was way too cold to go out last weekend so i got my friend steve on the phone and we played a game we have come to really enjoy. We go on the Arizona State Department of Correstions site.
It's called prisoner poker. The object of the game is to click the prisoners headshot and try to guess what they had done. Then you click the link and you get whats basically the "back of their baseball cards" of crime. The system requires you put in a last name to see the prisoner profile, so we went with really common names. People named Smith and Jones as well as johnson and green; you are well represented in the Arizona Penal System. We had a great time and eventually got really good at guessing the crime. Many of these people are from Maricopa County, where they have that insane sheriff-- he's under investigation for a series of weird and criminal things all revolving around his weird stalag type jail. It's on TV all the time. He makes the convicts live in tents, he makes them wear pink, they all have to work. It sounds good on TV. Why shouldn't the prisoners work?
They are proud to have the prisoners earning their keep. On the site you can also see the prisoners work records. They make ignominiously low prison wages, and deservedly so. That seemingly common sense idea take a turn for the crazy.Sheriff Joe Arpaio ruthlessly uses this to run his for profit jail. Thats right for profit.
Look, i don't have a problem with some convict making school desks or license plates or helping sustain the prison infrastructure to earn their keep. Hell, they damn well should. It's the idea that now there is a monetary incentive to criminalize and jail a person. Prisoner Poker proved out my hypothesis. There are a lot of people from maricopa county in jail for a long stretch for some pretty outlandish things. For instance- resisting arrest. Okay, if you hit a cop you need to spend some time in the can, absolutely, but this leads to the question, what were they even arrested for? This DA has no problem heaping on charges, surely some of these people would be "resisting arrest, possession of drug paraphenalia, or a gun or something. Nothing. Lots of people in jail for resisting arrest and thats it.
Meanwhile from the moment you don the pink underwear and convict stripes you start working at one of two places; Eurofresh, a dutch owned tomato farm; or Hickman Family Farms, which actually sounds like the kind of place you might want to take a vacation. More like doing a stretch for aggravated DWI. There's dozens of Smith's and Joneses out there in the arizona desert killing chickens and sorting eggs at the Hickman facilty. Whereas an illegal alien would likely command as much as 6 bucks an hour, Jim the drunk gets 15 cents an hour. Think about that next time you have salad. Did some crazy wife beater from Arizona paw this thing? Did the waiter wash his hands.... but i digress
I have heard that the Prison for Profit Industry has helped craft Arizona's draconian immigration laws. Think about it, they have a captive labor force of prisoners. I don't know any backstory on what these people did, but spending like 3 years in prison on a marijuana charge seems excessive. Scores of people with drug paraphenalia but no drugs are in jail, unexplained resisting arrest convictions where the person apparently did nothing else.
In the state of Arizona there's an incentive to imprison people. There's a reason to take on an attitude of guilty until proven innocent. I have heard first hand accounts of the maracopa county prison camp from a nice girl from New Hyde Park who got a DWI there going to Arizona State. So it's true enough and verifiable through all the records.
I think that the State of Arizona is Guilty of using convicts as a Slave Labor Force. To further this an overly punitive police regime engages in mass criminalization of average people, many of whom look quite normal in their prison mug shots. I know I am never going to go there. Fuck that. The Teahadists in Arizona have a cash incentive to throw me in jail, all so they can pay a convict .40 cents an hour to avoid paying a brown man 5 or 6 bucks an hour? Arizona is a dangerous place that has serious unamerican overtones. American's picking tomato's on a prison factory farm is a reality. Is it one we should live with?

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